Captured 53 Years Ago, This Orca Is Going Home

Miami Seaquarium working on arrangements to return 'Lolita' to Puget Sound
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2023 1:58 PM CDT
Captive Orca Returning to Freedom After 53 Years
In this 1995 photo, trainer Marcia Hinton pets Lolita, a captive orca, during a performance at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami.   (Nuri Vallbona/Miami Herald via AP, File)

She was captured in the waters of Puget Sound in 1970 at age 4. More than a half-century later, plans are underway to return the orca known as Lolita to those same waters, reports the Miami Herald. The killer whale has been held all this time at the Miami Seaquarium, though she was retired from performing last year amid health problems, per NBC News. Lolita also is known by the Native American name Tokitae, or Toki. It's not clear when the orca will make the cross-country journey, but the multimillion-dollar logistics are immense. The Seaquarium announced its plan Thursday along with the nonprofit group Friends of Lolita and philanthropist Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts.

“If she is healthy enough to be transported, the issue is her skill set,” Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado, a longtime Lolita advocate, tells the Herald. “She doesn’t know how to catch or hunt. We’re not really sure if she can communicate with other whales because she’s been alone. Now we kind of have to retrain her.” Advocates have been pushing for the orca's release for years, and the Guardian provided an in-depth look last year.

"Her captivity is an anachronism—a bridge between a time when whales were sold for human entertainment, and today, when the practice is largely scorned," reads the story. Coverage of the plan in the outlets above notes that Lolita's partner, Hugo, died of a brain aneurysm in 1980 after repeatedly banging his head against the orcas' enclosure. Lolita's supporters want her to avoid the same fate. The Guardian story notes a potential nice ending: Researchers believe Lolita's mother, now in her 90s, is still alive in Puget Sound. (More orca stories.)

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